Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hospital Visits

Sometimes, I like to visit people in hospitals or take them to their doctor’s appointments. It helps me stay well connected to the system I find often flawed beyond repair. By staying connected to the real world of patient safety and healthcare systems, I can truly report back, to the people who have the power to make changes, what is really happening. Unfortunately, it can be at the risk of losing someone’s life.

I recently met a patient who was in the intensive care unit of a New York hospital. I won't say where even though I probably should. This woman has been hospitalized for 9 months with infections. I witnessed 2 nurses treating her while she lay unable to move on a respirator and swollen beyond belief from fluids. Each nurse grabbed gloves from a box but never washed their own hands first. No antibacterial lotion, no washing. The radiologist came to take x-rays and he shifted the patient, moved her arms and prepared her for x-rays and he never washed, used lotion or put on gloves!

The husband, who I was there to support, did not want me to say too much. He is afraid they will let her die. This sort of thinking is what has gotten today’s healthcare system in trouble to begin with but I have to respect him and what he wants from me as a support to him.

Yes, I wanted to tell them to wash their hands first but I think I was too shocked that it didn't occur to me that what I was seeing was accurate. The simple words "Can you please wash first" that we want so desperately to say just don't come out as easily as we think. If it were my family member, you bet I would say it but it just seemed so irrelevant at the time when there were so many other "issues" I was witnessing at this facility.

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